The Airport Lounge Is 75 Years Old

Airline lounges are 75 years old. The first one was an American Airlines lounge in New York.

American has a great online history of its lounges.

  • The original club opened in 1939. New York’s Mayor LaGuardia was criticized for having too big an office at New York LaGuardia airport so he rented out some of the space to American.
  • They couldn’t name it “Admirals Club” because a judge determined people might think it was for Navy Admirals only, so it was named “Flagship Club” (American’s current lounges are Admirals Clubs while their first class lounges are Flagship Lounges).
  • The second club was at Washington National airport. They weren’t allowed to serve alcohol, so they stored bottles for members. This practice continued until liquor laws were changed in 1970.
  • American’s sales department gave out memberships, with paid memberships introduced in 1967 ($25 per year, or $250 for a lifetime membership).

Paid memberships became the norm across the industry after a 1974 Civil Aeronautics Board ruling. Paid club memberships were an anti-discrimination measure — lounges were open to anyone willing to pay the fee.

Here’s American’s new airport lounge strategy. Unquestionably lounges have come a long way since the advent of the lounge 75 years ago.

In the US we have American Express Centurion lounges far exceeding what we’ve become used to.

Of course little can match the Thai Airways spa in the Bangkok airport.

.. or Lufthansa’s tarmac transfers.

Or Cathay Pacific’s showers.

Who knew that in some sense we have populist outrage over Fiorello LaGuardia’s airport office to thank?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Gary: United’s lounges were named “The Red Carpet Club”. In the 1950’s, membership was open to anyone who was a member of United’s 100,000 Mile Club. The 100,000 Mile Club required one to prove that he/she had flown more than 100,000 miles actual air miles total (all airlines), in a time where most people in the U.S. had never flown. My father was a member of the 100,000 Mile Club as early as 1959 (when I was 10 years old), and was quite proud of it.

    After I graduated law school in 1973 and moved to Cleveland, a United hub, I purchased a United Red Carpet Club lifetime membership for what was then the princely sum of $250.

  2. Gary, I experienced the spa, the Mercedes, and the cabana – all on my first non-coach trip! Looks like I hit the jackpot. Sadly nowhere to go but down from there.

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